Monday, October 05, 2009

Moro rebels attack marine post in Sulu, claim bombing in Cotabato

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / October 5, 2009) – Suspected Moro rebels attacked a marine post Monday in the southern Filipino province of Sulu where fighting had killed dozens of gunmen and soldiers in recent weeks.

A regional military commander, Major General Benjamin Dolorfino, said rebels fired mortar bombs into the post of the 311th Marine Company in the village of Bitan-ag in Panamao town.

“There were no casualties, but our operations are ongoing in Sulu against lawless elements,” Dolorfino said in an interview.

A rebel leader, Madarang Sali, deputy supreme commander of the shadowy group called Bangsamoro National Liberation Army, said the fighting erupted after military forces shelled the stronghold of the Moro National Liberation Front.

“The military started the offensive and fired cannons targeting MNLF forces in Sulu,” he said in a statement to the independent regional newspaper, the Mindanao Examiner.

Sali warned of more bloodshed and renewed threats to bomb military and civilian targets in the country in retaliation to government offensive in Sulu, one of five provinces in the troubled Muslim autonomous region.

“We have special units in Mindanao and we will target you all,” he said, adding they have declared holy war against the Arroyo government and that they are fighting for the freedom of the Bangsamoro people, referring to the local Muslims.

“We need to make a sacrifice even with our own lives to regain the independence of the Bangsamoro people,” Sali said.

Fighting in Sulu the past weeks have already killed at least 34 rebels and a dozen soldiers, including two members of the US Special Forces who were helping the Philippine military in defeating terrorism.

Sali’s group had claimed responsibility for the September 29 roadside bombing that killed US soldiers Sergeant First Class Christopher D. Shaw of Markham, Illinois, 37; and Staff Sergeant Jack M. Martin III of Bethany, Oklahoma, 26, in Indanan town.

Sali said only 10 MNLF rebels were killed in the fighting in Sulu, denying military claims that 34 gunmen had died from the clashes, although security officials claimed only two bodies had been recovered by soldiers.

He also accused US forces of participating in military operations in Sulu and warned that attacks on American troops would continue.

Local authorities said they have stepped up security because of threats of attacks by rebel forces. Zamboanga City, which had been previously bombed by Abu Sayyaf militants, is currently celebrating the weeklong Hermosa Festival in honor of the Virgin Mary locally known as “Our Lady of the Pilar,” its patron saint.

A homemade bomb exploded on Monday in Cotabato City in Mindanao Island, although no casualties had been reported. Sali has claimed responsibility for the latest blast, saying, it was carried out by a special unit of the BNLA’s 1st Battalion.

Security officials said the bomb exploded at around 7.45 a.m. near downtown Cotabato.

“There were no reports of injuries or casualties and we are still investigating the motive and who was behind the bombing,” said Colonel Jonathan Ponce, a spokesman for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.

“The bomber may have failed to sneak the improvised explosive device into downtown Cotabato because of the presence of troops guarding checkpoints around Cotabato and just left the bomb to explode at a vacant lot in the village called Rosary Heights,” Ponce said.

Ponce said the bomb was designed to kill. “The design of the IED was meant to kill,” he said, adding, soldiers have recovered nails and broken parts of a cellular phone believed used to trigger explosion from the blast site.

He said the explosive was similar to those being used by Moro rebels in previous attacks in Mindanao.

The bombing came a day after BNLA rebels warned of impending attacks in civilian targets. Sali said the bombing was only a warning of bigger attacks to come.

Sali’s claims cannot be independently confirmed.

The MNLF signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996, but many of its members were disgruntled with the accord and accused the government of failing to uplift their living standards or bring developments in Muslim areas. (With a report from Geo Solmerano)

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